Holidays on home soil are likely to be the first we can take this year. Alas, travelling around Britain isn’t always cheap. But there are ways you can keep the cost down.
You can legally wild camp in Scotland and Dartmoor, or stay in a mountain bothy for free (when covid rules allow; mountainbothies.org.uk). And then there’s camping, of course: last year, on a three-day walk from my front door, I paid £7.50 a night, cooked couscous on my stove and spent a fiver on the bus back home. That might not be everyone’s idea of a bargain – some might prefer, say, access to a shower – but I felt I got a lot of experience for my money. And that’s perhaps the way to judge a British break; not on cost, but on value.
Does it deliver? Case in point, that whole trip close to home cost me less than a night at Harlington Manor (harlingtonmanor.com), but that character-packed Bedfordshire B&B is also brilliant for the price: for a reasonable £80-a-room, I got a four-poster, a first-class breakfast in the 16th-century parlour and a weekend I reminisce about with my mum. I’ve paid the same or more for far less.
So when thinking about how to holiday in Britain on a budget, you should concentrate on what you’re prepared to pay to make memories. That might be camping, somewhere wild and wonderful. Or it might be spending more (and it can cost considerably more) to glamp – for the joy of sleeping in greater comfort, in something fun, in an unforgettable location.
It might be finding a hotel that throws in extras – use of bikes, attraction discounts, afternoon tea – for free. For instance, you can pay £130 a night at Bath’s smart Brooks Guest House (brooksguesthouse.com) and get two passes for the Thermae Spa, worth £70. Or it might be really thinking about what you’re paying for – the lower hassle of a package tour, the uniqueness of an experience. Naturetrek’s (naturetrek.co.uk) three-day all-inclusive Somerset Levels in Spring trip costs £345pp, but how many more birds will you tick off just by being in the company of experts?
Of course, if you can travel off-season, you’ll save in spades – a holiday home that’s £400 a week in November can push £900 in July. Though sometimes you find a spot with pleasing pricing simplicity: for instance, the lovely Coach House Lofts, in Lincolnshire’s Easton Walled Gardens (eastonholidaycottages.co.uk), cost from £130 a night for two nights, then £80 for subsequent nights, all year round.
Indeed, staying longer will usually bring better deals, and mean more time in one place to explore at a slower pace and spread your saved cash around a domestic holiday market that has suffered terribly over the last year.
1. A night on the farm – from £65
Spend the night at Adam Henson’s place: the TV presenter’s Cotswold Farm Park is not only chock-full of rare-breed animals and outdoor activities, it offers camping too. The glamping tents come with creature comforts: proper beds (a double and bunks), pots, pans and a barbecue, plus a touch of Moroccan style. They also come with free entry to the Farm Park (around £15pp), so practically pay for themselves.
Glamping tent (sleeps four) from £65pn (01451 850307; cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk).
2. Adventure in the Dales – from £475pp
From the cornflakes to the campfire marshmallows, and every paddle, rock scramble and rope swing in between, everything is covered on an all-inclusive High Adventure. Family rooms are basic but comfy, food is catered with the pickiest kids in mind, and activities are varied – from archery and zip-wiring to caving at Ribblehead viaduct and rambling at Malham Cove.
A six-night Family Adventure Holiday costs from £475pp/£450pp adult/child, full board; departures in school holidays (01535 442035; highadventureholidays.co.uk).
3. Island life – from £85
Save on a trip to the Isle of Wight by leaving your car at home. Idyllic, woodland-tucked Camp Wight is only two miles from Yarmouth’s port and the ferry doesn’t charge for bikes. Plus, the back-to-nature camp has tents and domes to hire if you don’t want to carry kit, plenty of cycle ways and a bus stop on the doorstep.
Pitches from £15pn, geodesic dome (sleeps four) £85pn; tents available to rent (campwight.co.uk).
4. Mess about on the Broads – from £1,270
Given that there’s nothing half so much worth doing as messing about in boats, a houseboat stay in the Broads National Park should keep everyone entertained. Relax aboard your floating home, which comes with a rowing boat. Or add the Sparrows & Amazons package, which includes a canoe tour, motor launch trip, sailing lesson and a hamper of local goodies.
Houseboats (sleep four) from £105pn (01502 712166; hippersons.co.uk); Sparrows & Amazons package (for four) from £1,270pw (£45pp per day).
5. Find peace in Wales – from £15
There’s no playground at Fforest Fields – this farm-set campsite, with two lakes and views across mid-Wales, doesn’t need one. Kids here have fun enough tree-climbing, den-building, tad-poling, swimming; there are kayaks you can borrow for free too. This is camping at its most restorative (there’s even a meditation hut), with plenty to do nearby if you can pull yourself off site.
Pitches from £15pn; yurts (sleep four) from £77pn; cottage (sleeps five) from £90pn (01982 570406; fforestfields.co.uk).
6. Snowdonia in style – from £27.50pp
Hostel stays don’t mean slumming it. The Rocks at Plas Curig, in Snowdonia National Park, is a five-star knock-out – less hostel than family-friendly boutique hotel with easy access to Wales’s greatest mountains. Bedrooms (sleeping two to eight) are fresh and bright, with fluffy duvets, Welsh wool blankets and private showers; there’s a big kitchen, bike store and fire-pit too. Hikes are on the doorstep while Zip World is a short drive (guests get a 10 per cent discount).
Rooms from £27.50pppn (01690 720225; therockshostel.com).
7. An epic ride – from £360pp
The Trans Cambrian Way is a 160km mountain-bike epic from the English border to the Dyfi Estuary. With hills, valleys and potentially inclement weather to tackle, you don’t want to have to worry about logistics. Mountain Bike Wales will sort everything – guiding, kit transfer, hot meals, warm beds – for £120pn. Other guided breaks, based at MBW’s Staylittle Lodge (opening spring 2021), can cost even less.
A three-night guided Trans Cambrian trip costs from £360pp; October 7 2021 (01686 449354; mtb.wales).
8. Little Switzerland – from £645pp
HF Holidays’ new Shropshire Tread Lightly trip, based at its Church Stretton country house, is fairly easy on your wallet as well as the planet. For under £100pn, you get a week of guided walks (with three options per day) that require no transport to reach, taking in the ‘Little Switzerland’ hills and the Long Mynd ridge, as well as every breakfast, packed lunch and dinner.
A seven-night guided Shropshire Tread Lightly trip costs from £645pp, full board; May-December 2021 (020 3974 8865; hfholidays.co.uk).
9. Sail away – from £210pp
Feel the romance of hitting the seas in a topsail schooner without requiring the budget of a billionaire. Cruise out of Charlestown Harbour on the elegant Anny, bunking on board and being fed by the expert crew, for £105 a night. Get hands-on too, learning how to chart a course, set the sails and steer the ship as Cornwalls coves glide by.
A two-night cruise aboard Anny of Charlestown costs from £210pp full board; April 15 2021 (01726 70241; charlestown-harbour.myshopwired.co.uk).
10. Ambling in the Cotswolds – from £39
The historic wool-weaving town of Winchcombe, which lies at the intersection of the Cotswold Way, Gloucestershire Way and a web of other trails, is the self-proclaimed walking capital of the Cotswolds. And its handsome White Hart Inn is an excellent base, offering great-value Ramblers Rooms, as well as a bespoke one-night Walkers Package, that includes dinner, packed lunch and even a pint.
B&B Ramblers Rooms from £39pn; Walkers Package from £119pn for two (01242 602359; whitehartwinchcombe.co.uk).
11. Make a splash on the Cardigan coast – from £120
Ty Cwch is a cluster of three cool cabins, fashioned from old shipping containers, just behind lovely little Cwmtydu Beach and perfectly placed for exploring the Cardigan coast’s hiking, cycling, coasteering and surfing potential. There’s loads of space for storing kit, as well as large, versatile living areas that can be private or opened up and shared by a group adventuring together – discounts are available for exclusive use.
Ty Cwch cabins (sleep four) from £120pn (01348 830922; qualityunearthed.co.uk).
12. A Highland hike – from £370pp
If you’re time poor and money tight, focus on doing the highlights of a classic trail only in a simpler style. Absolute Escapes can organise an abridged West Highland Way hike, from Tyndrum to Fort William, using a selection of B&Bs, hostels and bunkhouses, keeping the cost to more manageable levels while leaving you to concentrate solely on the grandeur of the Scottish highlands
A five-night self-guided West Highland Way Highlights trip costs from £370pp (0131 610 1210; absoluteescapes.com).
13. Rainforest haven – from £180
The organic uplands farm of Cefn Coch, within the Unesco Dyfi Biosphere, is both a haven of natural diversity and a place to learn all about it. There are two cosy self-catering places here, tucked amid the hills and Highland cattle; even better, owner and ecologist Joe Hope leads deep-delving nature tours (complete with microscopes) to help you get intimate with the lichens, ferns and fungi.
Cottage (sleeps four) from £180 for two nights; nature tours from £25pp (01654 702068; cefncochfarm.co.uk).
14. Go wild in Exmoor – from £20
Safaris are expensive and, for now, off-limits. But for a low-cost taste of the Africa experience, try Knepp, one of Britain’s largest rewilding projects. Expert guides lead walks and game drives to spot everything from stags and Exmoor ponies to birds, bats and butterflies. You can stay on site. The treehouses, built around mature oaks, are a gorgeous splurge, but the meadow campsite is a lovely budget alternative.
Pitches from £20pn; glamping options (sleeping two) from £621pw; safaris from £40pp (01403 713230; kneppsafaris.co.uk).
15. Away with the birds – from £250
There might be cheaper lodges (though £42pppn isn’t bad at all) but Bewick’s location is priceless. This three-bedroom retreat is part of Scott House, former home of Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust founder Sir Peter Scott, within Slimbridge Wetlands Centre. Not only do guests get free entry to Slimbridge during opening hours and a free tour of Scott House museum, they also have 24/7 access to Scott’s personal viewing tower, overlooking bird-flocked Rushy Lake.
Bewick’s Lodge (sleeps six) from £250pn (01453 891900; wwt.org.uk).
16. Retreat to a wild isle – from £50
The Isle of Rum is a bit like a safari park: 900 red deer, a herd of distinctive Rum ponies, feral goats, white-tailed eagles and some 60,000 manx shearwaters live here, while the ferry ride in might reveal whales, dolphins and seals. Stay in cheap comfort at the bunkhouse, bothy, cabins or B&B and go wildlife-walking: hike to the otter hide or to Kinloch Glen Waterfall, looking out for deer.
17. In search of puffins – from £300
Bempton Cliffs is home one of the UK’s most magnificent wildlife spectacles: March to October, half a million seabirds gather here to breed, including the ever-popular puffin. To see it, stay nearby at the Old Waiting Rooms. This cottage, which still has many original Victorian features, is part of Hunmanby Station; regular trains to Bempton (ten minutes), seaside Filey and points beyond stop right outside the door. Plus the Spirit of Yorkshire whisky distillery is within a five-minute walk.
The Old Waiting Rooms (sleeps two) costs from £300pw (01723 892426; oldwaitingrooms.co.uk).
18. Fly to Suffolk – from £18
At Alde Garden you get the sense of being at one with nature, with the benefit of an onsite pub. Each of the handful of glamping options and tent pitches sits in its own secluded spot, surrounded by trees, wildflowers, ducks and chickens, but you’ve got easy access to the owners’ Sweffling White Horse inn. For wildlife beyond the site, the coast and RSPB Minsmere are within cycling distance – borrow a bike, free of charge.
Pitches from £18pn; glamping (sleeps five) from £204 for three nights (01728 664178; aldegarden.co.uk).
19. Skye by Jeep – from £95
A piece of military history, Boris is an army trailer that’s been converted into a cosy den for two, and parked amid remote mountains. The vibe is quirky, the views spectacular. Even better, Boris belongs to Skye Jeep Tours, who give overnighting guests a discount on their private island expeditions by vintage Jeep – a truly special way to see Skye.
20. Treehouse fun – from £82
Everyone loves a treehouse. Which is why they’re seldom cheap – those listed on Canopy & Stars are mostly more than £180 a night. But the Treehouse at Puckshipton breaks the rules, literally: under £100, it’s only accessible on bike or foot and totally off-grid. Too much of an adventure? Try Beudy Banc Treehouse, Powys, which offers more comfort (double bed, modern bathroom, wood-burner, burbling stream) for a good price.
Treehouse at Puckshipton (sleeps two) from £82pn; Beudy Banc (sleeps two) from £105pn (0117 204 7830; canopyandstars.co.uk).
21. No-frills Devon – from £84
What Foreland Bothy lacks in facilities (and it really doesn’t have many) it makes up for in location. There’s no heating, no lighting, no beds (though there are sleeping platforms), and a simple sink and composting loo. But this little stone bolthole sits on Exmoor’s cliffs, gazing out to sea, far removed. The South West Coast Path is on the doorstep, and the dark skies are hard to beat.
Foreland Bothy (sleeps four plus two dogs) from £84 for three nights (0344 800 2070; nationaltrust.org.uk).
22. Hit the road – from £60
Who doesn’t want to drive off into the sunset in a campervan right now? While a new van might cost you upwards of £40,000, you can hire someone else’s via a sharing-economy platform like Camptoo for a fraction of the price. All types are listed, from massive motorhomes to quirky conversions; consider size, fuel efficiency, manoeuvrability (if you’re planning to tackle winding roads) and cost of campsites – unless you head to Scotland where wild camping is allowed.
Campervan hire from £60pn (01344 207870; camptoo.co.uk).
23. Go green in Cumbria – from £80
Can we afford not to stay at places like the Quiet Site? This cluster of camping pitches, Hobbit Holes, pods and cottages in Ullswater has won numerous eco accolades. The latest is the 2020 Queens Award for Enterprise: Sustainable Development. New for 2021 are its wooden, hedge-enclosed Gingerbread Houses, which will be both carbon neutral and fun to stay in, with magnificent views of the Cumbrian fells.
Hobbit Holes/Gingerbread Houses (sleep two adults, four children) from £80pn/£100pn (01768 486337; thequietsite.co.uk).
24. Lord of the manor – from £46.55
Stay in a fine old 17th-century manor house, with an unspoilt area of the Peak District beckoning outside the gates, for under £11 a night. YHA Hartington Hall still has plenty of aristocratic charm – big stone fireplaces, oak panels, ceiling mouldings, flagstone floors – only now anyone’s allowed in: it’s been a youth hostel since 1948. Choose a private room or glamp out in the gardens.
Rooms from £46.55pn (sleeping two) to £65.55pn (sleeping six); dorm beds currently unavailable, but visit the website when the rules change (0345 371 9740; yha.org.uk).
A touch of class
25. Gorge on the view – from £75
Atop Sion Hill, gazing at Brunel’s suspension bridge, the Avon Gorge Hotel du Vin has one of the best urban settings you’ll find for such a reasonable price. Rooms are stylish and the old building’s Victorian heritage beautifully preserved, from the marble staircase to the stained glass. Plus the city is in easy reach, where sites like the M Shed museum and Banksy street art are brilliant freebies for a budget break.
Doubles from £75pn; gorge view rooms from £89pn (0117 4030210; hotelduvin.com).
26. Wing it in Cheshire – from £140
A monastery turned Grade-I listed country house in splendid grounds, Combermere Abbey delivers plenty of bang for buck. Its North Wing has two just B&B rooms: light-filled Salamanca, with an antique tester bed and freestanding bath, and oak-panelled Bhurtpore. Entry is via a grand gate, and a dedicated House Manager will serve you breakfast in the dining room, overlooking the mere. A relatively low-cost way to feel like lord of the manor, for a night at least.
B&B doubles from £140pn (01948 871662; combermereabbey.co.uk).
27. Find style by the sea – from £97
Falmouth’s Sandy Duck is a good find in an over-loved county that’s often over-priced: this B&B gets a respectable eight out of ten rating from our expert. There are seven Scandi-stylish rooms and all but one has bay views; all seven have huge beds, fluffy robes, home-baked cakes, and come with delicious breakfasts, heavy on local produce. Plus Gyllyngvase Beach is nearby, making it ideal for swimmers.
B&B doubles from £97pn (01326 311427; telegraph.co.uk/tt-sandy-duck-hotel).
28. Party in the tower – from £2,200
If we’re ever allowed to gather in groups again, consider Aikwood Tower. For £22 per person per night, you can live like a laird in this medieval Borders bastion, deep in Ettrick Forest. There’s a spiral staircase, a grand Great Hall, a book-filled study and croquet lawn, plus huge stone fireplaces, leather armchairs, and artwork and swords hung on the walls. Banquets can be served in the vaulted kitchen, with its oak table for ten.
Aikwood Tower (sleeps ten) from £2,200pw (01865 600425; oneoffplaces.co.uk).
29. Latin spirit in London – from £90
It’s not easy to find a place to stay in the capital, with a scintilla of style, for under £100 a night. But the Church Street Hotel in Camberwell manages it, bringing a South American vibe to South London. Bright walls, iron bedsteads, Mexican tiles and textiles, and a free jar of signature hot sauce add pizzazz to the bedrooms; the 24-hour Havana Lounge offers free tea and coffee, and is well stocked with rum and tequila.
B&B doubles from £90pn (020 7703 5984; churchstreethotel.com).
30. A spooky stay – from £100
It’s said Northumberland’s Chillingham Castle is the most haunted in the UK. Which adds an extra frisson, for free, to a stay at this affordable medieval pile. It’s not hard to imagine spirits inhabiting the character-heavy apartments, which variously boast exposed stone, high beams and decadent four-poster beds. No sightings yourself? Join a ghost tour, to explore the castle’s spookiest corners.
Guardroom (sleeps two) from £100pn, £360pw; larger apartments available; ghost tours from £25pp (01668 215359; chillingham-castle.com).